One thing is obvious if you try to watch a lot of Christian movies: Christians suck at making movies. I mean, we really, really suck. I don’t know why. We’ve always been good at making music, and art, and science, and food, and buildings, and universities. Why not movies, too? I wish I knew. I don’t know if it’s all about big budgets that we don’t have. Maybe if we had half a billion dollars we could do better.
But whatever the reason, we’re not very good at it. And that’s a shame. Because there is a hunger in the nation for really good Christian movies…it’s just that we aren’t making very many. The fact that a kind of average movie about Christ (The Passion of the Christ, which didn’t even make my list) is one of the top-15 grossing movies of all time makes my point. Imagine if we produced movie about Christ that was actually captivating?
Anyway, there is some fuzziness here in terms of the category, so I should explain it a bit. To be considered, the movie had to have an open discussion of the Christian faith in some way, or otherwise be clearly tied to Christianity. In other words, the movie had to be in some sense explicitly lauding Christianity (and not just Christian values like forgiveness). Not all these movies were directly made by Christians, but I judged them nonetheless to be clearly Christian-y enough to make the cut. It’s fuzzy. The Narnia movie could have been in last week’s category (though it would have been found nowhere near the top 5); and The Sound of Music (from last week’s Non-Christian-Yet-Christian category) could be in this week’s. I started to use this week’s category only for movies actually made by Christians, but that would have almost certainly forced me to include one of the Left Behind movies in the top 5, and my computer would have died of shame.
1. The Mission
Why I like it: Some of the most powerful Christian imagery ever produced anywhere. This movie has a wonderful plot that is based in a real historical event, and shows the clash of the values of Christianity against the selfish political power struggle of the Church. This could have been put in last week’s category, because it isn’t exactly positive propaganda for Christianity; but it is explicitly Christian-themed and is about heroic Christian missionaries (and it ends with an incredible Bible verse). Either way you categorize it, it’s one of the best things Hollywood has ever produced. The scene where the former slave trader has his penance-pack cut off of him by a member of the tribe he used to hunt is an absolutely priceless – and powerful – image.
Not to mention that it has two of the best actors ever at the top of their game, and unquestionably one of the most beautiful soundtracks in the history of movies or music.
What I don’t like about it: I like beautiful cinematography of mountains and waterfalls as much as anyone, but jeepers! I think half this movie is a bit too much like Disney’s Planet Earth. I like to hear actual people talking some of the time. Show some mountains and a guy playing a flute…just let people talk a bit more!
2. Amazing Grace
Why I like it: One of the most inspiring stories in human history, told with powerful acting, incredible music, and beautiful imagery. The slave trade is brought down, led by one person who felt a calling from God. What isn’t there to like?
What I don’t like about it: Ok, so there is little too much cleavage shown on Wilberforce’s wife – come on, seriously, do you think that’s actually how the wife of one of the most famous and pious Christian characters ever dressed? I do not understand Hollywood sometimes.
3. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Why I like it: The fact that this movie is so high on the list only highlights my point about how Christians do not seem to have the knack for movie-making. (In actual truth, I don’t think we get to a movie truly written and produced by Christians until we get to #4; although of course, C. S. Lewis was a Christian and his Christian step-son was involved in the production of this movie). It’s a pretty good movie, but it’s not exceptional. I like the Narnia books and this is a fair representation, but it isn’t a magical representation. The music is, I admit, first-rate.
What I don’t like about it: I think I covered it in the why I like it section. Not a good sign! But I’d also add that I think, outside of Lucy, the acting in the movie isn’t all that great.
4. Jesus of Nazareth
Why I like it: This is, by far, the best movie ever made about Christ Himself. The guy who plays Jesus is mesmerizing, the writing is true to the Bible and yet provides a lot of interesting context and speculation that helps bring the story to life. Christ is pictured as the all-powerful, and yet tender and compassionate, Person that I have come to know in my own life.
What I don’t like about it: The length! I mean, it’s six hours long, and huge portions of it are very boring and don’t contribute to the movie at all. Also, and this is not insignificant, the music is beyond terrible. It sounds like some guy with a tuba in the 1970s sat around trying to imitate a bird dying. Let that image sit with you for a while. If someone would come along and edit this movie down to two hours, add a new soundtrack, and re-release it, it would be a huge hit.
Why I like it: An anti-pornography movie that looks like it was made with about an $8 budget grossed $33 million in a country obsessed with the lust of the eyes. That ought to tell you something about this movie. Kirk Cameron gets a lot of flak, but actually I thought he was very good in this movie. Better cinematography and acting than you’d expect from a low-budget flick.
Not to mention that the movie is inspiring and every single guy in the country should be required by law to watch it. It pretty much hits the nation where it hurts; and the whole country needs it.
What I don’t like about it: Nothing, really. Well, it’s a little boring at times, and I don’t typically like love stories. Also maybe a little too preachy. Sometimes it feels like an advertisement for the book The Love Dare. This isn’t really my kind of movie, to be honest, and yet it made my top 5.
[You may be wondering why I have a number 6 in my top 5 list. It’s because I originally had this movie at #5 and had already written all the stuff below, but it got bumped down in the final list. It takes more work to delete it than to write #6! Though now that I’ve included this long note, I think I ended up on the working-too-much side of the ledger. Anyway, it’s thrown in for free, so why complain, for sheer mathematical reasons?]
Why I like it: A low-budget film about an important Christian figure that actually works. It is well-acted and inspiring. The love story between Luther and his wife is fantastically portrayed. A complex history is woven seamlessly into a 2-hour plot. The movie largely revolves around fighting Church corruption with Christian truth, and that’s an inspiring theme for me (see: The Mission).
What I don’t like about it: A probably very one-sided history of Protestant beginnings; it’s made by the Lutheran Church, and I’m sure the Catholics would have more to say on their side. Plus, although they tried to capture Luther’s good and bad traits, I’m not sure they totally gave him a completely honest look.
7. The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything
[You may be wondering why I have a number 7 in my top 5 list. If so, it’s obviously because you haven’t gotten into my top 5 vibe. 7 is the new 5!]
Why I like it: This is totally a kids’ movie, so keep that in mind. But it’s a powerful metaphorical story about the true meaning of life wrapped up in a mysterious pirate adventure and topped off with absolutely beautiful computer animation. It’s got swashbuckling, and one-liners, and a crazy evil bad guy, and a valiant noble princess; and giant dancing rock people. One of the best things that Big Idea, for a time the premiere Christian media group in the country, ever produced. I would have actually put this one higher on my list – probably in the top 3 – if I had thought about it earlier and wasn’t inherently lazy.
What I don’t like about it: There is little here not to like. But did I mention that I’m kinda lazy? (Wait, that’s something not to like about me; let me try again). But did I mention that all the main characters are talking vegetables? If you know Big Idea and VeggieTales, you know this already; but while, in a weird sort of way, it is charming to see cucumbers fighting non-descript rhubarbs, frankly this movie could have been a serious blockbuster if they had used real “people” as the characters instead. It’s a really, really clever and wonderful little flick that is held back a bit by the commitment to veggies.
8. The Easter Carol
[Seriously, you don’t need another note explaining why I’ve got 8 things on my top 5 list, do you? You are picky.]
Why I like it: Actually, this movie is the very best thing Big Idea has ever produced. It’s a wonderful re-telling of Dickens’ classic novel set at Easter (instead of Christmas) and using talking vegetables. The music is awesome and the storyline is fantastic. It is one of the best presentations of the Gospel message that I’ve ever seen anywhere, at any level, for any audience.
What I don’t like about it: Nothing, really. The talking veggies seem to work better in this context, for some reason, than they do in the Pirates movie. The reason it is rated so low: Because, technically speaking, this wasn’t really a movie. It’s only a 50-minute TV-show style production in the classic VeggieTales mode. And it’s really a kids’ show. Otherwise, I’d have probably rated it number 2 on this list. A lot of the other VeggieTales videos might also have made the list, too…I just picked this one as the best representative. Did I mention I was lazy?
The Best of the Rest (In Order of Preference): 9. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. 10. Left Behind: World at War (go ahead and laugh, Peter, but it’s a good flick); 11. Facing the Giants. 12. The Book of John. 13. The Prince of Egypt. 14. Joseph: Prince of Dreams. 15. Flywheel (also known as: The Only Decent Movie in the World ACTUALLY Shot with a Camcorder). 16. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (that’s not actually a Christian-y movie; I’m just seeing if you are paying attention; also, as I hope you notice, I’m running out of options here).